Xobni for Gmail enters private beta; Android, iPhone next

Xobni breaks out a free Firefox and Chrome add-on to supplement Google's Gmail.

Xobni is offering access to the first 100 CNET users who want to try out Xobni for Gmail. Sign up here, using the code XOBNI-CNET100. Once codes run out, you can still add your name for future access.

It's been a while since we've heard from Xobni, the company best known for its Outlook organizer and later, its BlackBerry e-mail add-on. Today, it pops into focus once more, with a new product: an e-mail extension for your Gmail account.

Called Xobni for Gmail, the free, limited private beta is an add-on for Firefox and Chrome that promises to go deeper than Google to bring context to the content of your Gmail account.

With Outlook and BlackBerry, Xobni's value proposition makes perfect sense--search was lacking, and Xobni's ability to pull together names, job titles, phone numbers, Facebook photos, attachments, and conversations surrounding any e-mail address to enter your inbox offers tangible benefits.

But Gmail already offers speedy search and threaded conversations. What does Xobni bring to the table?

More of the same with its organized sidebar capable of gathering supporting contact details taken from the contact's social networking profiles like Facebook and Linked In, as well as more-detailed contact information, and interesting stats about your social network--for instance, how often you speak electronically, and other people you speak with. Clicking a number can launch a Skype call, but Xobni doesn't currently connect with Google Voice.

Business users of corporate Google Accounts will also be able to use Xobni to aggregate contact details. In fact, you can link multiple Gmail accounts if you use Google's e-mail client for personal and work-related messaging.

Current Xobni users have the option of linking information with their Outlook and/or BlackBerry accounts to form one enormous address book accessible across all Xobni apps.

Getting started
We got a chance to get started with Xobni for Gmail (on Firefox this time) just prior to this morning's private beta launch. Setup wasn't hard, but you do need to validate your account and authorize access into Gmail (via OAuth) before Xobni can begin the lengthy process of indexing your messages. The longer your history with Gmail, the more patience you'll need to exercise before you can start experimenting.

Our in-box was still indexing at the time of writing; be assured we'll be taking a long-term review approach as Xobni for Gmail continues to develop.

Next up: iPhone and Android
Xobni has also announced plans to release a beta for Android and iPhone within the next three months.

If you're trying out Xobni for Gmail using either Firefox or Chrome, come back and let us know what you think.

Article updated at 10:27 a.m. PT to change the product name to Xobni for Gmail. The initial beta we sampled was called Xobni Lite.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.